It’s the company you keep.
For proof of that maxim, Alcoa coach Tom Gorman says, look no further than rising Tornado star Andrew Mitchell.
The Alcoa boys soccer team suffered a painful, 4-3 overtime loss to five-time defending state champion Christian Academy of Knoxville in a Region 2A/AA semifinal game Tuesday night at Goddard Field. The defeat brought to a close the winningest season in school history for the Tornadoes (15-5-2), one where Alcoa achieved its highest-ever state ranking, fifth, before finishing in the sixth spot after the loss to the Warriors.
Alcoa will be back, partly because of Mitchell, who’s knocked goals in bunches over the last two seasons. The speedy junior has “a nose for the goal,” Gorman said.
“I’d take him over anybody in the state right now the way he’s playing,” Gorman added.
Size, speed, power, Mitchell has all the tools. When it comes to scoring goals, he also knows with whom to keep company.
“The ironic thing is guess who his girlfriend is?” Gorman said.
Ali Pasqua scored more goals — male or female — than anyone in the history of Blount County high school soccer in four seasons as a Lady Tornado, concluding her All-State career with a record 98 goals.
They talk often of soccer and finding ways to breach an opponent’s goal, Mitchell said. Then there’s older sister Emily.
“I remember my sister was good, very good,” Mitchell said. “She showed me a lot of moves.”
The rest is Mitchell himself, Gorman said, and he’s overcome a crippling injury his freshman season to make it happen.
In the final scrimmage that year, Mitchell suffered a high-ankle sprain that lingered all season. Not only was his speed affected, but his ability to cut and drive the ball was greatly hampered.
“He really couldn’t hit the ball with his right foot, his dominant foot, all season,” Gorman said.
Those were frustrating days.
“It was just horrible timing,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t extend (the ankle) all the way, and that’s how you get power. I just knew I was better than that. I was playing soft, and that’s not how I play.”
The injury sent Mitchell into the offseason committed to improve his game. He got bigger and stronger. He packed 161 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. Around the goal, he became a force and ready alternative to fellow junior Sam Thompson and super sophomore Derrick Brodus when it came to providing Alcoa with goals.
“He’s fast,” Gorman said, “but the biggest thing is he has soccer speed; he’s fast with the ball. If he gets by you, you’re not going to catch him. He has the ability to get behind people.”
Mitchell got behind the Seymour for all three goals in a 3-2 win in last week’s District 3A/AA tournament championship game. Adding a goal in Tuesday’s loss, the versatile forward has now led the Tornadoes in scoring in each of the last two seasons. At times, Mitchell performs at a level you can’t coach.
“I don’t know how you teach it,” Gorman said. “I don’t think you can.”
A contributing factor in his rise has been the players around him, Mitchell said. Goalkeeper Adrian Womac and defenders Dusty McClanahan and Roberto Castro are key elements in a stout defense.
“That’s what’s surprising so many people,” Gorman said. “He (Womac) has that big-save capability. He saved a PK (penalty kick) in our win over Oak Ridge.
Up front, Brodus can at times be dazzling.
“He’s an amazing player,” Mitchell said. “I learn something from him every game.”
Tuesday surely hurt, but then few thought the Tornadoes had enough to get this far when the season began. The district crown was Alcoa’s third consecutive, with the first two secured by a largely senior-dominated team.
There were signs early the 2008 Tornadoes were in no mood to set aside the torch they’d been passed. There was the 3-2 win over the Class AAA Wildcats. There was the 1-1 tie with arch-rival Maryville, the first time the Tornadoes had left the field with anything but a loss against their AAA soccer cousins.
There was the first-ever meeting with multi state champions Bearden and Farragut as well. While the Bulldogs and Admirals won handily, it better prepared the Tornadoes for Tuesday’s clash with Christian Academy.
“Obviously, (this year) is a rebuilding season,” Mitchell said. “I would never have expected us to be sixth in the state. The only way to react (to losing last year’s seniors) was to work hard.
“We had more athletes last year. We had a full 11, but we play more as a team this year. It feels great to be a part of this team.”
Much of the credit for this season is due the man at the top, Mitchell said. Gorman has made believers of those who doubted his ability to make Alcoa regional and state player upon his arrival five years ago.
“He’s put so much into this program,” Mitchell said.
So, too, has Mitchell, and, with a year to go, he’s anything but done.